What Does it Take to Live the Pledge?

What Does it Take to Live the Pledge?

Do you remember back in grade school when we started our day with the Pledge of Allegiance? With right hand over heart, we recited this pledge every day while admiring our Flag. I remember feeling very proud but not sure I truly understood what I was actually pledging OR, that someday it might take something more than words to fulfill the pledge–it might require action.

My son said the same pledge when he was in school and my nieces still say it today.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.

So, what did that actually mean? And, more importantly, did we really mean it?

Pledge: to promise solemnly.¹

Allegiance: devotion or loyalty to a person, group or cause.²

Republic: a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.³ 

Indivisible: not divisible; not separable into parts; incapable of being divided.⁴

Liberty: freedom from arbitrary or despotic control. Power of Choice.⁵  

Justice: the administration of law, especially the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.⁶ 

All: Everybody, Everything.⁷

Most of us have probably rarely considered the possibility of losing the liberties we’ve been so fortunate to have in the United States of America.  

If we truly pledge this allegiance (promise to be loyal to the cause), we need to be highly aware of decisions and events happening in our own country and around the world so as to prevent the slow encroachment and violation of our human rights and liberties.

We can begin by knowing our 30 Universal Human Rights and make sure others know them as well.

Freedom is not free. It comes with responsibility.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 21, Section 3 states: The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. Our responsibility does not end with a vote. Another action you can take is to continuously use your voice effectively with your Congress people.

Know Your 30 Human Rights. Live the Pledge. The power is in you!

Post By:  Ellen Firestone

What if We Truly Achieved the Full Development of the Human Personality for Everyone?

On December 10, 1948, 56 member countries of the United Nations came together and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

This Declaration contains 30 separate articles or “Rights” that we all have simply by the fact of being born. We do not have to earn them; no one has to give them to us—they are ours.

In my opinion, it is an amazing, well thought out document. Even more amazing to me was that 56 countries came together in response to the atrocities of World War II and agreed on something that is so critical for all human beings to be able to live with dignity in peace and tolerance on this tiny planet.

There is a particular line or theme that was repeated in 3 of the 30 rights that stood out to me in Articles 22, 26 and 29 having to do with the “free and full development of the human personality”. Hmmmm. How do we achieve this? What does it really mean? What makes it so important to be repeated 3 times?

Article 26, Right to Education, specifically states: 2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Unfortunately, most people I’ve come in contact with over the past decade have not even heard of the UDHR and can name only a handful of the 30 human rights. So, even though we have this great document and did the hard work of having many countries agree on something, it is still not being taught or executed broadly enough. Hence, many continued horrific human rights violations.

My question is: what makes the free and full development of the human personality so important and how do we achieve it?

It was important enough to mention in 3 separate articles and yet I don’t see it being actively pursued by many individuals, schools or organizations.

I recently did a survey and one of the questions was did you learn this human right in school? Another was, did anyone ever talk to you about having a Basic Purpose while you were in school? There were very few who responded yes.

Great writers and philosophers have been teaching the concept of Know thyself for millennia.

Know thyself. – Socrates

Do thine own work, and know thyself. – Plato

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. – Aristotle

Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God. – Pythagoras

Be yourself; not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be. – Henry David Thoreau

In 1831, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a poem titled, ‘Know Thyself’, on the theme of ‘God in thee.’ The poem was an anthem to Emerson’s belief that to “know thyself” meant knowing the God that Emerson felt existed within each person. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_thyself

How much time and attention do any of us really put on knowing ourselves, our basic purpose, and achieving our full potential? What could the world look like if we did something to change that?

Not only would individuals be more alive and happier, the world would be more beautiful and peaceful. We would actually care for each other, our organizations and our environment.

It does make a lot of sense, like this human right states, for Education to be directed to the full development of the human personality. Once we reach adulthood, many of us lead very busy lives with lots of distractions and simply do not take the time to discover who we are or what our purpose may be or even acknowledge that we have greater potential than we probably could ever imagine.

The truth is, it is never too late to find and start living your purpose. The key is to set some time aside in your daily or weekly plan for discovery, find a coach or process that works for you. Then set some goals to consistently work on achieving your basic purpose and full potential.

The Persian poet, Rumi once said, “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” This has certainly been my experience. The secret is to simply start.

It’s time to bring this human right to life!

Post By:  Ellen Firestone

Where Does Peace Begin?

Where Does Peace Begin?

Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on September 21st. The United Nations’ General Assembly declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.

Is peace simply the absence of war and violence? Or, do each of us contribute to peace every day of our lives?
On Saturday, September 19th, I made a trip to the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania to visit my family. I decided to stop at the local mall prior to arriving at my parent’s house. It was a beautiful Saturday with lots of people enjoying a day of shopping with family and friends which suddenly crashed to fear and chaos.

I was inside Macy’s looking at some clothing when I heard what sounded like a stampede and kids screaming. I looked up and saw a bunch of high school kids running so thought they were messing around. Then more and more people were running and someone yelled “Get out, get out someone has a gun.” My first thought was is this for real? Obviously, there was no time for analysis and I just ran to the nearest exit (with the suit jacket still on that I was trying), hopped in my car and quickly drove away. As I was leaving the parking lot, I saw a few police cars entering and then realized this is for real.

Thankfully the news report the next day was that no one was physically harmed—4 rounds shot inside the mall, but no one hurt. However, there were photos of children crying and stories of people hiding until police came to escort them out. Some of the emotional harm was traumatic. The terror and chaos created at that place and time was definitely not a contribution to peace.

We may not be on the top governmental lines to stop wars but we can certainly be responsible for our own inner peace and peace in our communities.

Where does peace begin? It starts with the thoughts we think and words we speak and actions each of us takes. True peace does not come in a pill or a bottle.

Serenity is defined as the state of being calm, peaceful or untroubled. We can work on that each moment for ourselves and our families and contribute to peace in the larger world. We either cause peace or we cause something else.

The short answer is, Peace begins with you and me.

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Post By:  Ellen Firestone

We Touch the World and the World Touches Us

Back in May 2020, I received a message on LinkedIn that seemed “out of the blue”. The message basically said, Hello! hope you are doing fine! It’s been a while! Crazy times we are in right now huh?!! Wow! I was talking with a colleague who mentioned a book that his brother wrote about a human trafficking network (Africa to Dubai route) and I thought of you. Don’t know if you have read it yet – “I Am Not Your Slave” – by Tupa Tjipombo & Chris Lockhart

The message came from a former colleague who I worked with at a corporation in San Jose, CA about 8 years prior…an example of how the world touches us.

I had responded to her that I’d not heard of the book but shortly after receiving her message, purchased it on Amazon and looked forward to reading it. 

My colleague let her friend know, who then let his brother know. A few days later my colleague sent me Chris Lockhart’s email address and said in case you would like to reach out to him after reading the book.

I Am Not Your Slave is the shocking true story of a young African girl, Tupa, who was abducted from southwestern Africa and funneled through an extensive yet almost completely unknown human trafficking network spanning the entire African continent. As she is transported from the point of her abduction on a remote farm near the Namibian-Angolan border and channeled to her ultimate destination in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, her three-year odyssey exposes the brutal horrors of a modern-day middle passage. During her ordeal, Tupa encounters members of Africa’s notorious gangs, terrifying witchdoctors, mysterious middlemen from China, corrupt police and border officials, Arab smugglers and high-ranking United Nations officials. And of course, Tupa meets her fellow trafficking victims, young women and girls from around the world. Tupa’s harrowing experience, including her daring escape and eventual return home, sheds light on the most shocking aspects of modern-day slavery, as well as the essential determination to be free.”- Chris Lockhart

Once I finished reading the book, I immediately wrote a 5-star review on both Amazon and Goodreads and then emailed Chris Lockhart to let him know how much their book impacted me. “What an impact it had even on someone who was aware of this human rights violation. Thank you and Tupa for putting this story and information out there. I really do not think I could appropriately put into words how it impinged on me (like to the cellular level) and inspired me into more action but I did my best on both Amazon and Goodreads—see review below.”

A few weeks later, I emailed Chris again and asked if he would be willing to do a podcast or written interview to help spread the word even further about their incredibly important message.

Chris responded that either Tupa or both he and Tupa would do the interview. I was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to communicate with Tupa directly. We decided on written interview since logistics for a podcast might be challenging. Chris asked me to just email the questions and they’d respond as soon as possible.

Tupa Tjipombo is the pseudonym of a Namibian woman who is currently pursuing a college degree in her homeland while volunteering at a shelter for orphaned and vulnerable children.

Chris Lockhart is a widely published academic author. He currently lives and works in Namibia as a global health consultant for international development agencies.

Their insightful responses follow…

Interview with Tupa Tjipombo:

There is so much I’d like to communicate to you. I see you as a Super Hero and have much admiration for you. Your strength and courage are beyond belief. Thank you very much for being a shield maker; for sharing your story to help others. Hope you are ok with me saying this but even though I’m located across the Atlantic Ocean I feel like I am close and stand in your circle as described by your great-Auntie. 

Feel free to share anything you want. Here are some questions:

How? How did you survive those years?

Thank you for your kind comments.  I appreciate them very much.  Let me greet you first and wish you blessings.  I hope your life is good and you and your family and loved ones are well.  In my culture, before we talk, we have long greetings to make certain that everyone is well.  So, let us assume that everyone is whole and the news of the day is good. 

As humans, we either survive or we do not.  I chose to survive because I still had that choice.  Though sometimes it got very close and I thought maybe someone would kill me, no one put a gun to my head and took away my choice to continue living, so the decision remained mine.  And I will always choose to live as long as that choice remains mine.  It’s true that choice was taken away from me in many other ways, but no one ever took away my choice to survive.  Sometimes, it was the only thing I had left.  So it was precious to me.  And I chose to live because I wanted to see my home again. 

What were your thoughts when you heard Alieu (one of the guards) say you were probably going overseas to “a collector”? (my reaction was pure shock! a wealthy man literally ordering a Himba girl from southwestern Africa or a girl from wherever he wants in the world) How can this evil network even exist in our world today with hardly anyone knowing or doing anything about it? 

I did not have the experience to even understand what his words meant.  It was not something I was familiar with or could even comprehend.  It remained a mystery to me.  I even thought Alieu was telling me a joke because he could be like that.  I had never heard of such a thing – a man who collected women like cows?  I thought, “Oh! This man is telling me nonsense stories.” 

We can only understand things through our past experiences, and my past was very limited to being a child in a remote area of Namibia.  My experience of evil – true evil – was nothing compared to the reality because I had not even known evil like that; it was not part of my past – not according to my experiences or even the books I read or stories I was told by my teachers or the most knowledgeable Elders.  And even when you read books to understand the world beyond you, once you read that book it becomes a part of your past, so there is still a danger that you interpret the words in that book according to your past, which might not be what the writer was really trying to tell you.  This is particularly true for something like slavery because most people have not been a slave.  This is why I wanted to write a book about my experience that was as close to what actually happened as possible.  I did not want to leave room for interpretation; I did not want the reader to think, “Oh, this is just like I thought it would be according to my own past.” 

What did you think when you saw the title on the business card of the man from the collector’s event?

When I was growing up, I was used to seeing white people either as tourists who come to see wildlife or as development workers.  So, it did not surprise to see that this white man was working for a development organization.  I can say that maybe I expected people who work for development organizations like the World Food Program or the World Wildlife Fund or organizations like that to be good people.  They are supposed to help us, right?  They are supposed to be doing good things for people around the world – especially people from Africa.  But since then I have learned that these are people just like any others and they can be good or bad or something in between.  But these organizations are so large and numerous that it must be very difficult to identify the bad employees.  It is a business like any other business and it needs to enforce its rules about how their workers behave.  But they do not seem to be doing a good job of this.  I wonder why this is true.  Maybe they escape attention because everyone thinks like I used to – that because they are development organizations or United Nations agencies, they must be full of good people.  This is not true.  And if you look at the history, it never was.  

How did you overcome the pressure to hate?

 That is from my faith in God.  I can also say that it might be a Namibian trait.  We are a quiet people who are not prone to hatred or wild swings in our emotions one way or the other.  We are strong in our determination and not our emotions.  A person can spend a lot of unnecessary energy hating others.  And when that happens, you become overcome by hatred.  Everything is hate.  You will find yourself alone and separated from those you love.  They will run away from you.  You will only attract others who also hate.  And so what will you do?  Spend your life with those people hating this and that?  Eish!

In the Epilogue of your book, you mention a discussion with the women in your family “we touch the world and the world touches us”.  What one message do you have for women around the world?

I would say that women need to come together now more than ever.  But they must come together from all over the world.  We need something like a United Nations of women but with a more grassroots focus, so that the local chapters are stronger than the central leadership.  The central leadership should only be called in to organize women from around the world when help is needed by a local chapter.  I hope this makes sense.  My point is that we do not want to copy all the problems we have with these kinds of organizations and then say it is good because it has a woman’s face on it.  And maybe we have something like this already – I really do not know – but even if we do, we need it to be stronger and more connected to those women who are not usually involved in such things.  This should be the first and most important priority because these are the women who need something like that the most.  I also think a woman’s organization would be better able to deal with human trafficking then a human trafficking organization.  I think this is true because human trafficking organizations are like a bandage that you put on after you are injured, whereas an organization focused on women seems better placed to focus on preventing that injury in the first place.

What do you most want from women in your outermost circles?

Well, I think it is funny because the women who I describe as being in the outermost circles have usually been the ones we think of as being in the innermost circles.  At least in terms of having a voice.  So let me say they are white women from the West.  So what I would say to them is that you should go out of your way to talk to more women who are outside of your usual circles.  Even if this makes you uncomfortable, it is ok.  In fact, it is a sign that you are growing and breaking out of your usual routine.  This is a good thing because it is how we learn.  How else are we as women going to achieve anything if we only talk to other women who are exactly like us? 

Anything else you want to share?

Onawa tjinene tji twa hakaene!  (Nice to meet you!)

It is an honor and pleasure to meet you Tupa! Thank you for sharing your message and for helping to make the world a much better place!!

Interview with Chris Lockhart:

In the Preface to the book, you mention some questions regarding Tupa’s breathtakingly shocking story. Why had we not heard of so many of these things before? How could it have happened to an individual from Namibia, a country as remote as they come? What are the conclusions you have drawn in answer to these questions?

I think there’s various reasons for our lack of knowledge regarding human trafficking as a global phenomenon.  First, it’s still hard to believe that it even exists in this day and age, despite the fact that there’s definitely been more of a focus on it over the past number of years.  However, and as I briefly indicate in the Preface, it’s not the kind of focus that captures people’s attention or motivates them to act.  It’s often relegated to the dry, jargon-laden realm of United Nations/government reports or academic studies.  These are usually written for a particular and relatively small audience of professionals.  And while they’re important, they don’t show the blood, sweat, and tears of real people; they don’t tell the story of what it’s actually like to be a modern day slave, especially from the perspective of a survivor-advocate like Tupa.  So in a way the issue itself has become institutionalized and abstracted.  It’s also just hard to capture the attention of a Western audience with respect to any issue – not just human trafficking – in terms of how it manifests in places outside of the West.  And finally, I think people feel like they have their own problems to deal with, especially these days, so they have to prioritize everything in terms of their own lives – including what they’re willing  to read and learn about.  The propensity for evil in this world can be overwhelming.

What actions have you taken, if any, in regards to justice for Tupa? How high is the risk?

This is a tough question because I don’t think I can provide a very satisfying answer.  Perhaps the best actions that were taken involved the traditional authorities among the Himba in Tupa’s homeland in the Kunene Region of Namibia.  They actively sought justice for her with respect to her uncle Gerson, and they also raised money to support her when she returned home.  And I don’t think it would be in the best interests of other individuals described in the book to return to Himba territory any time soon – they are a known commodity now and it wouldn’t go well for them.  This is why it’s so important to empower and support minority Indigenous groups like the Himba – they are at greater risk of being trafficked, are often exploited by outside organizations and individuals who undermine their livelihoods (now always knowingly or intentionally), and abandoned by national governments and law enforcement agencies.  They do better when their traditional governance and justice structures are supported and they’re able to speak for themselves rather than have all these proxy organizations come in claiming to work on their behalf. 

Other actions we’ve taken involved contacting organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations World Food Program to make them aware of how their actions can put people at risk or whose staff knowingly partake in human trafficking.  The response has been to ignore, downplay, or simply reject our efforts out of hand.  And national governments have been no better.  As far as Namibia goes, they’re more concerned with achieving a positive ranking from the US Department of State when it comes to human trafficking, mostly because it opens up certain avenues of development funding.  In fact, the country just received a highly prized “Tier 1 Ranking” in June 2020.  But these rankings have been widely criticized as generic, politicized categories that have little to do with how trafficking occurs on the ground.  We need more grass-roots, community driven solutions, especially among high risk communities and groups. 

It was the frustrations of trying to seek justice for Tupa that led us to write the book in the first place.  Raising awareness of these issues is critical because it truly does put more pressure on organizations and governments to do something.  We have to shame them.

This book was so alive, like the reader was there. You had mentioned to me that you are writing some other books. Can you share the topics and when we can expect them?

I’m just finishing a book about the lives and experiences of four street children in Lusaka, Zambia.  It’s also a true story and based on years of ethnographic immersion by a team of former street kids, a journalist, an outreach worker, and myself.  While it’s a true story, it’s written in the same narrative manner as Tupa’s book, though this time from the different perspectives of the four kids and how their lives increasingly intertwine around the mysterious murder of one of their own.  It’s also about the power of random acts of kindness and how even the smallest good deed can have widespread and positive consequences that amplify as they ripple through a community, even one comprised of street kids from central Africa, who just might face more forms of suffering and violence then almost any group imaginable.  Like human trafficking, you find very few insider accounts about street children that actually tell the story of their daily lives, struggles, and dreams. 

I’m hoping this book comes out at some point over the next year, but that’s subject to all the twists and turns that come with literary agents, editors, publishers, etc.  Luckily, we have some good ones on our side, individuals who understand the value of nonfiction accounts that aren’t just biographies of the Kardashians.  We need to revolutionize how and what we read.

Thank you Chris for caring enough about other people and the world to put this memoir out there so we get enough people to understand and stand up to help stop this evil.

Even though this interview gives an idea of the reality and horrors of human trafficking, I highly recommend you read the book (see review below) so you hear directly from Tupa her full story.

Oh, and one last thing… After I received the responses from Chris and Tupa, it made me think back to how I came across this book in the first place. I wondered how and why this former colleague thought of me and reached out to me now after 8 years. So, decided to send her a message on LinkedIn. Her response was: “Whenever something comes up regarding Human Rights, I mention in the conversation that I met you and you did a brown bag event [lunch and learn] teaching us about the United Nations list of Human Rights (which I didn’t fully know existed before that) and that you are very active with human trafficking awareness. This time the conversation went a little deeper and I knew for sure I needed to link you two together as I thought you might want to pursue the connection!”

We Touch the World and the World Touches Us!

Post By:  Ellen Firestone

5 Star Review for “I Am Not Your Slave” on Amazon and Goodreads:

COURAGE TO SHINE THE LIGHT ON EVIL AND FIGHT FOR FREEDOM

OUTSTANDING!!! Highly recommend this book even though there are nightmarish scenes to confront that at times left me almost shaking. I have known about the horrific, mostly hidden, crime of human trafficking for over a decade but never read or heard about evil like what Tupa endured.

Even more appalling was the fact that the men at the final destination were supposed to be the very humanitarians (from the US and elsewhere) helping to protect human rights! This crime needs to be deeply investigated to get to the source and JUSTICE needs to be served no matter the person’s high level, powerful, public position. As Martin Luther King said back in the early 1960s, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The book is so well written it is like you are there. I could not put it down. The way Chris Lockhart described things brought so many perceptions to life almost to the cellular level. By the end of the book, I had no doubt I was standing in Tupa’s expanded circle.

Tupa Tjipombo and Chris Lockhart, have inspired me to do even more in the fight for Universal Human Rights. NO ONE should ever go through anything like this. Human Trafficking–Slavery, in all its forms, needs to truly come to an end in the United States and everywhere around the world. ENOUGH!!

Tupa is a true hero! Her strength, courage, fight for freedom, and pure greatness are an inspiration for all human beings–especially women. Let’s join together with her and put an END to this atrocity called modern day slavery.

If you have any desire to help create a fair and free world, read this book, increase your awareness, be inspired, take action!!

Photos of Kunene, one of fourteen regions of Namibia, very close to Tupa’s home village.

How Much Are You Willing to Give for FREEDOM?

On a walk this morning through my hometown, I passed by a Historic house that I’ve seen many times– the George Taylor House, signer of the Declaration of Independence. This July 4th, 2020, made me wonder how much our Founding Fathers had to be willing to give in their quest for Freedom? Would we as present-day Americans be willing to give the same to maintain our freedom if it is required at any time in the future?

In celebration of Independence Day, I decided to “google” the Declaration of Independence to remind myself of the gift we have been given and what actions could be called upon any one of us in order to maintain our Freedom and Human Rights:

During the 2nd Congress, July 4, 1776, the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That when any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…source: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

We are reminded in the closing statement of the document what the signers of the Declaration were willing to give:

“…And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Wow!

Even after this amazing Declaration was signed, our country had to continue to fight for freedom and human rights for all people. For example, it was not until 1865 that slavery was abolished in the US (13th Amendment) and not until August 1920 that women received the Right to Vote (19th Amendment)–only 100 short years ago! Even with that, we still have work to do to fully eradicate human trafficking (modern day slavery) and according to payscale.com, women continue to earn less than men. The fight for freedom and human rights does not stop.

Back in November 2018, I attended a US Global Leadership Coalition Summit in Wilmington, Delaware and heard some fabulous closing remarks by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and former Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee where Corker said about the United States: We have our problems, but we are still the greatest nation on earth and we are the force that raises everyone else up.

Today we celebrate that greatness! Happy Birthday America!!

Post by: Ellen Firestone, July 4, 2020

Published July 4, 2020